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How to pass ATPL exams with a full-time job in 8 months whilst Hour Building? 

People continue to ask how I did my ATPL exams with a full-time job in 8 months whilst hour building at the same time. In this blog post, I’ll give you seven tips so hopefully, you achieve your goals and get through the ATPL exams.

One of the gaps I found during my ATPL exams was that nobody actually teaches you HOW to study – and I struggled initially as I had been out of education for a while. Check out my How To Study Effectively class on Skillshare – Skillshare is running an offer at the moment for 2 weeks FREE.

In the class, I share my study techniques of how I completed my ATPL exams in just 8 months whilst juggling a full-time engineering job (and hour building at the weekends)!

How to study effectively
How to study effectively

See the class here

#1: ATPL distance learning with a full-time job is not for everyone. Think very carefully about undertaking them around a job

The lowest point for me during ATPL exams was Christmas 2017. I remember getting up around 6 am before the family on Christmas day, where I used to live in Barrow-in-Furness to study. We had Christmas dinner, and once everyone was stuffed and was falling asleep on the sofa mid-afternoon, I went back and did a bit more ATPL exam study.

On Boxing day evening (again doing some study during the day), in preparation for my Multi-Engine Piston course starting the next morning, I kicked the family out in the evening and packed up my bags. I drove the 2 hours on what was a cold and icy evening to a crappy cheap hotel just outside Leeds Bradford airport.

All by myself that night, I remember thinking how lonely the whole modular pilot journey was and seriously questioned if it was worth it.

Are the ATPLs hard you ask? The hard part is the sacrifice and the isolation, the early mornings, the late nights when it is just you and the books. All you want to do is go to sleep or go out with your friends, or just lounge around and watch a movie. Who is going to give in? You or the books?

There is nothing technically challenging about the ATPLs – if you can do addition, subtraction and multiplication, you will be fine. What makes them a pain is the sheer volume of random information you have to remember.

#2: Understand the material but pay EXTREMELY close attention to the last 200 questions and feedback from other candidates. Facebook groups are excellent for this.

What does not help is the fact that there is an arms race going on between the various ATPL Exam question setting committees and the question banks.

They keep trying to outdo each other whereby new ATPL questions come out – the question banks catch up, so the CAA ATPL Exam committee responds with more new obscure questions, and the cycle continues. 

#3: You need an absolute determination and total commitment to getting through ATPL exams.  

Without writing some cheesy BS! you have just got want to pass and have the drive to push through and succeed. There is no easy way or short cut to passing your ATPL exams- you are just going to have to grind out a result.

The people who struggle with ATPLs are the ones that kind of want it because the idea of being a pilot is ‘cool’ from the various Instagram accounts they follow. 

I wanted to be an airline pilot, so I just got my head down and smashed through. There will be sacrifices along the way. The tough part if you are thinking about doing your EASA ATPLs via distance learning and around a full-time job is finding the time to study and sticking to a routine.

#4: You are going to have to be ruthlessly clinical with your time if doing your ATPL theory exams via distance learning

During my ATPL theory exams, all my social media accounts were deactivated. My routine was get up at 4:30, study until 8 am, go to work, study again at lunchtime for 30mins or so. Come home, dinner and if I had the energy do an hour. Early night for bed.

Then repeat the following day. It was intense, but having the added burden of working a day job, you have to maximise and be very efficient with your time.

#5: Take good breaks as the ATPL exams will go on for a minimum of 6 months if on an integrated ATPL course, and probably 8+ months if doing ATPL modular distance learning.

On the weekends, I would not study – I would go to Blackpool airport instead and work towards my CPL hour building. I found Hour Building was a fantastic break and respite from all the study. If you missed it, please check out my CPL structured hour building web app.

Come Monday morning after a weekend of excellent flying and visiting various places around the country, I was refreshed and ready to study again!

#6: Have a study plan and stick to it

A lot of your success and failure during ATPL theory exams will depend on your ability to stay motivated. Start at a granular level, in terms of the target amount of hours of study you want to achieve each day (realistically); then set gates and goals of where you want to be with the material.

I, for example, used to target completing the ATPL theory course material six weeks before the exam, and I could then use the remainder of the time to practice ATPL exams questions. If I was not making the progress I expected, I would delay the exams.

If I was ahead, I would check the CAA ATPL Exams schedule, and if there was an earlier exam slot, I would bring my exams forward. If behind, I didn’t rush the process and just delayed my exams. I did my ATPL exams in the UK so I had the flexibility to choose between various ATPL exam centres to find suitable dates.

#7: Do not do ATPL exams slowly

ATPL exam questions continue to evolve, and so does the syllabus. Things change over time. You do not want to rush and take ATPL Theory exams before you are ready.

Still, equally, if you do your ATPL theory exams over a long period of time, there is a real risk that exams questions will change, syllabuses will be updated, and you will have to go back and re-learn stuff.

If you are in the groove and the question banks are reasonably accurate and aligned, you want to take maximum advantage of the situation and sit your exams before new questions pop up and blindside you.

To give you an idea of which subjects I did and when to pass my ATPL exams in 8 months via the Modular ATPL route, the tempo and the module split I used to tackle the ATPL theory are shown below. Find a plan that works best for you and the layout of your ATPL distance theory course. Different schools combine different exams and organise each module differently.

Module 1: November 17

  • Air Law
  • Operational Procedures
  • Human Performance
  • Meteorology
  • VFR Communications
  • IFR Communications

Module 2: March 18

  • Principles of Flight
  • General Navigation
  • Mass & Balance
  • Performance
  • Flight Planning and Monitoring 

Module 3: April (end) 18

  • Airframe/ Systems/ Power Plant/ Electrics
  • Radio Navigation
  • Aircraft General Knowlege – Instrumentation

Check out my best selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon for how to pass your ATPL exams.

Listen to the Pilot Training Guide FREE with Audible here

See it on Amazon

Out of interest, for those doing their ATPL exams currently, which exams would you say are the hardest? (I nearly failed Mass and Balance!!). Please leave a comment in the section below – I would love to hear from you!

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  1. Have to agree on the speed thing……. doing atpls slowly really makes your life harders, it`s amazing how much the subjects overlap, you get a head start from your last module if the knowledge is still there.

    7 Months is super quick though! especially part time.

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